Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries Monday signed an agreement to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, even as the region prepares to tap into assistance from Norway to tackle the scourge that experts say is linked to a range of other transnational crimes.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Agriculture Minister, Saboto Caesar, who is chairing the CARICOM meeting of fisheries ministers, said globally, IUU accounts for up to 30 per cent of the total catch, warning that IUU perpetrators undermine national and regional investments to sustainably develop, utilise and manage fish stocks.
“Such unlawful activity will eventually negatively impact local fish catches, the availability of fish for local consumption, food and nutrition security, livelihoods, export earnings and economic growth and resilience of our countries,” Caesar said, adding that if little or nothing is done to address IUU, that could continue to spawn other criminal activities across the Caribbean.
“We now also have to pay careful attention to the problem of organised transnational criminal networks that are using fishing as a cover for their illegal activities. There is a growing body of evidence showing that drug traffickers, human traffickers, small arms traffickers and traders in contraband goods, among others, are using fishing as a cover to conduct their nefarious activities.”
Caesar said the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have over the years been trying to tackle that “very difficult problem” but the time has come for much tighter measures.
The Declaration would, among other things, allow CARICOM countries to benefit from a Norwegian platform called Blue Justice Community, through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), that would help track down vessels that are involved in IUU.
“Going forward, I think we need to strengthen our collaboration and I think we will begin to turn the tide on this very difficult issue that we are dealing with of unlawfulness in the fishing industry and the depletion and degradation of our resources,” said the CRFM executive director, Milton Haughton.
He said the next “major” step is a meeting of fisheries departments and security experts early next year to map out the needs and priorities that would be supported by the Blue Justice Initiative for ending the trade that has seen a depletion of fish stocks. “
Specialist Director of Norway’s Fisheries Department, Gunnar Stølsvik said that the Blue Justice Community is a secure platform that allows government officials to communicate with each other securely in a stable manner rather than by email.
He said in addition to providing lectures and training materials to build capacity, the related Norway-based Blue Justice International Traffic Centre would allow the relevant personnel to monitor vessels, conduct threat analysis, understand the movement of vessels, provide historical data, pinpoint ports being used and plan international cooperation.
Stølsvik said the Blue Justice Community could provide information to coast guards when planning to “use their resources.
“This type of analytical material could be used for when doing threat analysis and to understand the global movements of vessels of interest for your region or for the individual countries and we also have historical data many years back in time so it is possible to build a quite good picture of what kinds of activities these vessels have been involved in,” he said.
Monday’s meeting was also attended by representatives of the Barbados-based CARICOM Regional Security System (RSS).